Question of the Month: How Can My Club Host an Event?

We’ve written about the idea of flying clubs hosting events in earlier editions of Question of the Month, (links at the end of this article) but with the general relaxation of COVID-based limitations on gatherings and the pent-up desire to get out and do things, we thought it was timely to revisit this topic—along with the highlighting the opportunities and traps.

Hosting an event at the airport is a really fun way to involve your club members, other airport tenants, and “the local community” and can definitely help educate non-aviators about our industry/sport/hobby/passion as well as the importance that airports (and their operations) have on the said local community.  Events are also good forums to attract prospective club members.

We hear all the time about airports being under threat for many reasons, but frequently due to residents new to the community complaining about noise and safety concerns.  Now, it would be really easy to go off on a rant about this, as the same people rarely complain about the continuous and incessive whine coming from the local freeway and anyway, hey, you choose to live close to an airport, dummy!  Anyway, the point is that airport events are not only fun but present the opportunity to bring people together around the theme of aviation.  Moreover, even small airports bring in sales tax, employ people, provide important services (air ambulance, SAR, disaster relief, agricultural support and many others), and are vital our country’s amazing nationwide system of airports. Because of this, we must take all steps to ensure that non-aviators understand the contribution of their local airports.

Now, we probably each have a different thought bubble when we hear the words “local community”.  The truth is of course, it is all of those bubbles, and when hosting an event, you’ll need to provide “fun” for all of them.  We tend to focus our energies on the event itself but the really time consuming part of event planning is thinking about and then accommodating people’s “needs”.  I guess why it is call event planning!

Let’s list a few important considerations:

  1. Involve the airport manager and airport board. Even if you operate from a private strip, someone owns it and someone is responsible for it. For the case of airports owned and operated by the town, county, etc. it is vital to work closely with the management to avoid serious repercussions—you cannot just do what you like, when you like. We know of a flying club that held an unanticipatedly well attended “fly-in” that included a STOL competition, flour bombing, and so on. The airport manager was not very pleased the following Monday to find the runway covered in flour. “Your” event is an airport event, so fully involve the management and other tenants and users, even if you expect it to be fairly low key.
  2. It takes work and tenacity…but hey, we’re pilots, so nothing new there. But organizing, hosting, and running an event is different and involves that completely unpredictable group called “the public”.
  3. So, start small. If you’ve never hosted an event involving “the public”, you’ll be wise to start fairly low-level to learn the robes. You are dealing with people, so anything and everything is likely to happen.
  4. Even a “small gathering” type of event can get large, very quickly. You’ll want to advertise it to ensure people know about it, but then…people know about it.
  5. Don’t assume. Not about everyone being as exhaustively passionate about aviation as you are, or that others are even more over-the-top than you are. Provide fun for both groups. Use seminars and other educational methods to explain to people what we do and what they are missing, but also put on some pilot-oriented seminars for the attending aviators. A really good way to do this is to host an FAASTeam WINGS seminar. Pilots will fly in from miles away to attend and we all can use more proficiency guidance and training. Perhaps your safety officer is a WINGS representative but if not (why not…?) contact the FAASTeam program manger at your local FSDO to request that a rep be assigned to your event. Along the same lines, invite the program manager to attend and provide a table where they can display the wares of the FAASTeam.
  6. You’ll need to cater for people’s needs at both ends of the digestive system. Many events think about the food side, but the other end is equally important, and the one airport restroom may not flush it, so to speak.
  7. Events are wonderful opportunities for people to be immersed in aviation, but many will be non-aviators. An oblivious spectator and swinging propeller blades don’t mix well. Depending on the size of the event, you’ll need to rope-off movement areas, have responsible people patrolling (involve your local Scouts, CAP, etc. for this).This extends to having first aid available, fire and rescue, police to help control traffic (oh, and somewhere for people to park) and so on.
  8. Did we say “start small”?
  9. Your event is an aviation event so people will fly in. Is there enough ramp space? Is fuel available (in suitable quantities)? As the event will be posted as starting at a particular time, the sky around the airport is going to get busy. Ensure that the tower knows.
  10. In fact, invite ATC, flight schools, other clubs, and so on to not only attend the event, but to be part of the organizing committee. Let airport business have the opportunity to share their wares on tables in a “static” area.
  11. Yes—it will take a committee. Even the smallest fly-in involves many moving parts, so put your club members to work.
  12. Will the event involve “discovery flights”? Well, make sure they are safe and legal. We all know what is happening with warbird flights right now regarding rides and flight instruction, which has now bleed into the experimental world, so we all have to be really careful to not tempt the FAAs into proliferating their misguided decision to other types of operations. See here for the FAA policy on this quite absurd (re)interpretation of the regulations.
  13. Please, please, go beyond cold pancakes and limp sausages. The pancake breakfast has had its day…rump it up a bit. More ideas for this topic in a future Question of the Month!
  14. If you’ve never helped organize one before, don’t even think about an airshow. It sounds easy and fun to have the local aerobatic club pop over and do low-level aerobatics, formation flights, etc., but without appropriate waivers and help from the FAA, this can very quickly become illegal and dangerous. Events requiring waivers are truly a whole new world, so…start small.
  15. As a flying club, if you are thinking about hosting an event to raise money…don’t. If your club cannot sustain itself from member contributions, you have a problem that an event will not solve.

Here are links to previous Club Connector articles that add more on this topic:

So, hosting an event is a wonderful way to bring club members together, to get to know and work with the wider airport community, to help educate and proliferate aviation and what we do, and to put a smile on many people’s faces.  Just be careful, plan, don’t try to do it all yourself, start small and keep lots of lists of things to do!

If you’d like more information on hosting and running an event, please contact Steve who has helped organize and run many events, including some quite large ones—his email address is [email protected]

Thinking about it, this will be an excellent topic for a new Flying Clubs Workshop, and a Flying Club Radio show, so stay tuned.

Fly lots and fly safely!

Stephen Bateman
Contributor, You Can Fly Program
Steve retired from AOPA in April 2024, but continues to contribute to You Can Fly programs. Contact Steve at [email protected]

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